Booker v. Social Security Admin

Filing 3

ORDER that 1 Motion/Application for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. The Clerk of the Court shall FILE the complaint, but SHALL NOT issue summons. The Clerk of the Court shall MAIL Ms. Booker one blank form Complaint for Review of S ocial Security Decision, Pro Se Form 13, one copy of the original Complaint, and one copy of this Order. The Complaint is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. Booker shall have 30 days from the date of this order, or until November 30, 2017, to file an amended complaint, if she believes she can correct the noted deficiencies. Signed by Magistrate Judge Peggy A. Leen on 10/30/17. (Copies have been distributed pursuant to the NEF - MMM)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 DISTRICT OF NEVADA 6 *** 7 LEAH BOOKER, 8 Plaintiff, 9 v. 12 15 16 Plaintiff Leah Booker has submitted an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 along with a Complaint (ECF No. 1-1). This Application and Complaint are referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and LR IB 1-3 of the Local Rules of Practice. I. IN FORMA PAUPERIS APPLICATION 17 18 19 20 Ms. Booker’s Application includes the affidavit required by § 1915(a) showing an inability to prepay fees and costs or give security for them. Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. The court will now review the Complaint. II. 21 22 23 24 25 26 (IFP App – ECF No. 1) Defendant. 11 14 SCREENING ORDER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, 10 13 Case No. 2:17-cv-02681-APG-PAL SCREENING THE COMPLAINT After granting a request to proceed in forma pauperis, a court must screen the complaint and any amended complaints filed prior to a responsive pleading. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). The simplified pleading standard set forth in Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure1 applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions. Alvarez v. Hill, 518 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008). A properly pled complaint must therefore provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. 27 28 1 Any reference to a “Rule” or the “Rules” in this Order refer to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. -1- 1 P. 8(a)(2); see also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although Rule 8 2 does not require detailed factual allegations, it demands “more than labels and conclusions” or a 3 “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 4 (2009) (citation omitted). A complaint “must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to 5 give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 6 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). Allegations in a pro se complaint are held to less stringent 7 standards than formal pleading drafted by lawyers. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 n.7 (9th 8 Cir. 2010) (joining five other circuits finding that liberal construction of pro se pleadings is still 9 required after Twombly and Iqbal). 10 Federal courts are given the authority dismiss a case if the action is legally “frivolous or 11 malicious,” fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from 12 a defendant who is immune from such relief. 13 determining whether a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under 14 § 1915 is the same as the Rule 12(b)(6) standard for failure to state a claim. Watison v. Carter, 15 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). Review under Rule 12(b)(6) is essentially a ruling on a 16 question of law. North Star Intern. v. Ariz. Corp. Comm’n, 720 F.2d 578, 580 (9th Cir. 1983). 17 When a court dismisses a complaint pursuant to § 1915, a plaintiff is ordinarily given leave to 18 amend with directions as to curing its deficiencies, unless it is clear from the face of the complaint 19 that the deficiencies could not be cured by amendment. Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 20 (9th Cir. 1995). 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The standard for 21 Here, Ms. Booker’s Complaint challenges a decision by the Social Security Administration 22 (“SSA”) denying her benefits under the Social Security Act. See Compl. (ECF No. 1-1) ¶ 3. To 23 state a valid benefits claim, a complaint must give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s 24 claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Starr, 652 F.3d at 1216. To do so, a complaint 25 should state when and how a plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies with the SSA and the 26 nature of her disability, including when she claims she became disabled. The complaint should 27 also contain a short and concise statement identifying the nature of the plaintiff’s disagreement 28 with the SSA’s determination and show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See, e.g., Sabbia v. -2- 1 Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 669 F. Supp. 2d 914, 918 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (when submitting a 2 complaint for judicial review to the district court, social security appellants “must not treat the 3 matter as a simple formality” by filing “extremely perfunctory” allegations), aff’d sub nom. Sabbia 4 v. Astrue, 433 F. App’x 462 (7th Cir. 2011). Although this showing need not be made in great 5 detail, it must be presented in sufficient detail for the court to understand the disputed issues so 6 that it can meaningfully screen the complaint. See 4 Soc. Sec. Law & Prac. § 56:4 (2016); 2 Soc. 7 Sec. Disab. Claims Prac. & Proc. §§ 19:92–93 (2nd ed. 2015). 8 A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies 9 Before a plaintiff can sue the SSA in federal court, she must exhaust her administrative 10 remedies. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Bass v. Social Sec. Admin., 872 F.2d 832, 833 (9th Cir. 1989) 11 (“Section 405(g) provides that a civil action may be brought only after (1) the claimant has been 12 party to a hearing held by the Secretary, and (2) the Secretary has made a final decision on the 13 claim”). Generally, if the SSA denies a claimant’s application for disability benefits, he or she can 14 request reconsideration of the decision. If the claim is denied upon reconsideration, a claimant 15 may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). If the ALJ denies the claim, 16 a claimant may request review of the decision by the Appeals Council. If the Appeals Council 17 declines to review the ALJ’s decision, a claimant may then request review by the United States 18 District Court. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. A civil action for judicial review must be 19 commenced within 60 days after receipt of the Appeals Council’s notice of a final decision. Id. 20 See also 20 C.F.R. § 405.501. The SSA assumes that the notice of final decision will be received 21 within five days of the date on the notice unless shown otherwise; thus, an action commenced 22 within 65 days is presumed timely. The civil action must be filed in the judicial district in which 23 the plaintiff resides. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). 24 In this case, the Complaint does not indicate whether Booker requested review by the 25 Appeals Council or whether the Appeals Council denied such request, in which case the ALJ’s 26 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Without this information the court is 27 unable to determine whether Booker has exhausted her administrative remedies or timely 28 commenced this action. -3- 1 B. Grounds for Ms. Booker’s Appeal and the Nature of the Disability 2 The Complaint seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits and 3 asks the court to reverse that decision, or alternatively, to remand this matter for a new hearing. A 4 district court can affirm, modify, reverse, or remand a decision if a plaintiff has exhausted his or 5 her administrative remedies and timely filed a civil action. However, judicial review of the 6 Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits is limited to determining: (a) whether there is substantial 7 evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner; and (b) whether 8 the correct legal standards were applied. Morgan v. Comm’r Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 9 (9th Cir. 1999). 10 In the Complaint, Ms. Booker states that the reason for this case is to review medical 11 records because there are details that were overlooked. This statement suggests that the decision 12 to deny benefits was wrong, but she fails to describe why she believes the decision is wrong. Rule 13 8’s pleading standard requires more than “labels and conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A 14 complaint merely stating that the SSA’s decision was wrong and failing to describe the underlying 15 reasons why is insufficient to satisfy Rule 8’s pleading requirement because the complaint must 16 provide “sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing 17 party to defend itself effectively.” Starr, 652 F.3d at 1216. Accordingly, the Complaint fails to 18 state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 19 Ms. Booker will be given leave to amend her complaint by November 30, 2017. The Clerk 20 of the Court will be instructed to mail her a blank form complaint for review of social security 21 decision.2 Although a form complaint cannot cover every type of social security case, it does 22 highlight certain types of information that is useful to the court for screening purposes and may 23 aid plaintiffs in stating a colorable claim. 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// 27 28 2 The Complaint for Review of Social Security Decision, Pro Se Form 13, is also available for download on the United States Courts’ website at -4- 1 The court appreciates that it is difficult for pro se parties to litigate their claims in federal 2 court; thus, plaintiffs are advised to familiarize themselves with the Federal Rules of Civil 3 Procedure, the Local Rules of Practice, and relevant case law.3 They may also be able to participate 4 in the Federal Court Ask-A-Lawyer program coordinated by the Legal Aid Center of Southern 5 Nevada.4 6 Based on the foregoing, 7 IT IS ORDERED: 8 1. Plaintiff Leah Booker’s Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 1) is GRANTED. She shall not be required to pay the $400 filing fee. 9 10 2. Ms. Booker is permitted to maintain this action to conclusion without the necessity of 11 prepayment of any additional fees or costs or the giving of a security therefor. This 12 Order granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis shall not extend to the issuance 13 and/or service of subpoenas at government expense. 14 3. The Clerk of Court shall FILE the Complaint, but SHALL NOT issue summons. 15 4. The Clerk of the Court shall MAIL Ms. Booker one blank form Complaint for Review 16 of Social Security Decision, Pro Se Form 13, one copy of the original Complaint, and 17 one copy of this Order. 18 5. The Complaint is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. Booker shall have 30 19 days from the date of this order, or until November 30, 2017, to file an amended 20 complaint, if she believes she can correct the noted deficiencies. 21 6. Ms. Booker shall clearly title the amended complaint as such by writing the words 22 “FIRST AMENDED” immediately above “Complaint for Review of a Social Security 23 Disability or Supplemental Security Income Decision” and write 2:17-cv-02681-APG- 24 PAL in the space for “Case No.” 25 26 27 3 The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may be accessed on the United States Courts website at: The Local Rules of Practice may be accessed and downloaded from this court’s website at: 4 28 Information about the Federal Court Ask-A-Lawyer program is available on the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s website at or by calling 702-386-1070. -5- 1 7. Ms. Booker’s failure to comply with this Order by submitting an amended complaint 2 before the November 30, 2017 deadline will result in a recommendation to the district 3 judge that this case be dismissed. 4 Dated this 30th day of October, 2017. 5 6 PEGGY A. LEEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -6-

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